The inspirational Sanda Aldass: Refugee, mother of three, Olympian

Aldass escaped a war in Syria and made a new life in the Netherlands. Now she's made her Olympic debut against all odds.

Sanda Aldass is an inspiration.

The 31-year-old is a mother of three, a Syrian civil war refugee, and now she's officially an Olympian too.

Aldass made her debut in the spiritual home of judo, the Nippon Budokan, at Tokyo 2020 on Monday (26 July) to complete an epic journey since fleeing Syria for the Netherlands six years ago.

Her maiden Olympic bout came against Serbian judoka Marica Perisic who's 10 years her junior and already an accomplished fighter.

A European junior champion and two-time senior Grand Slam bronze-medallist, the 21-year-old has a big future and showed why against the IOC Refugee Olympic Team athlete.

Despite a valiant effort from Aldass, Peresic put her on the deck with 1:31 on the clock with a seoi-nage throw which she converted into a yoko-shiho-gatame hold for 10 seconds and victory by ippon.

Aldass' Olympic debut had come to an end, but merely stepping onto the mat to represent millions of refugees around the world was a triumph in itself.

Sanda Aldass: The mother who made it happen

Trying to juggle judo training and preparation for Olympic-level sport as a mother, plus the complications of moving from the Middle East to Europe and keeping on top of all the paperwork sounds like an impossible workload for most mere mortals.

But most of us have never had to escape civil war and ended up in a different country with a different language thousands of kilometres from home.

In 2015, Aldass escaped Damascus leaving her husband Fadi Darwish, who is also her coach, behind with their young son.

On arrival in the Netherlands she was brought to a refugee camp where she had to spend six months away from her family.

"Running around and doing some exercises filled up my time and also kept me in good mental health," Aldass told Olympic.org last year.

"I knew eventually they would come and that we would have a good place to live in. That let me cool down a little bit.

"If I had sat doing nothing, I would have gone crazy."

Eventually the family was reunited and settled in Almere, a 30-minute drive from Amsterdam. The family grew, with two children born on Dutch soil.

Despite all this, Aldass refused to give up on her Olympic dream.

She continued to train, to fight, to be part of the one thing that had kept her physically and mentally healthy: sport.

Refugee athletes face great challenges with lengthy asylum processes often leaving them in limbo, unable to take part in competitions and register themselves for things like government support and access to training facilities.

It's extremely difficult to stay at the top of a sport under these conditions, but she found a big source of support when she was awarded an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship which allowed her to continue training.

Meanwhile, Darwish went through all the linguistic and technical requirements to officially become a coach.

Aldass competed at the 2019 and 2021 World Judo Championships as well as Judo Grand Slam events as part of the IJF Refugee Team.

When the news came through that was chosen as one of six judoka selected for the 29-strong IOC Refugee Athlete Team to take part at the Tokyo Games, she was delighted.

"We have been dreaming of that for years and today we are living our dream," she communicated in a joint statement with fellow IOC Refugee Olympic Team judokas Ahmad Alikaj and Muna Dahouk when their selection for Tokyo 2020 was confirmed.

"We feel that we have a great responsibility. We will represent our sport, judo, but also the entire refugee community. We are so proud. We hope that millions of refugees across the globe will want to overcome their difficulties, based on what we have achieved."

Before the news had come through she told Olympics.com, "My kids are like, ‘Mum, you have to go to the Olympics’. "The goal for the whole family is reaching the Olympics.

"It's just a dream now, out there it would be a dream coming true."

Now that dream has come through, and it is an inspiration for millions of others to follow theirs too.